By MONTE SONNENBERG, www.simcoereformer.ca
Municipalities have been stripped of their authority to decide where green energy projects go, but they have influence on how these projects unfold.
That was the consensus this week as Norfolk council pondered the most recent green energy proposal in the local area — a 9,000-acre wind farm straddling the Norfolk-Haldimand boundary east of Port Dover.
The McGuinty government took municipalities out of the equation last year after some used the planning process to thwart the progress of green energy in Ontario. The province was especially disturbed that projects were being held up at the Ontario Municipal Board.
The Ministry of Environment took control of the approval process through the Green Energy Act. However, the ministry has told green energy companies that they must take into account the concerns of municipalities and adjoining property owners before drawing up final plans.
“I’m an optimist,” Norfolk planner Shirley Cater said. “I sincerely believe it is to the benefit of these companies to deal with municipalities. If they haven’t taken the municipality’s interests into account, I believe the Ministry of Environment is going to want to know why.”
The discussion came during a presentation from Capital Power Corporation, sponsor of a proposal to locate between 40 and 70 wind turbines on a large tract of land east of Port Dover. Company representatives affirmed that the province prefers projects that accommodate the concerns of the community.
“We think it is in our best interests to engage in out-reach with everyone,” said Lori Wilson, Capital Power’s manager of public consultation. “We’re here for the long-term. We want people to consider us good neighbours.”
Capital Power has held open houses in Norfolk and Haldimand. More open houses are planned as the company refines its proposal. The company wants the project up and running by the end of 2012.
Citizens no longer have recourse to their municipality when it comes to renewable energy. However, the province has established other mechanisms to handle objections.
For one, projects must comply with the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights. If they don’t, the province will intervene. As well, MOE will investigate complaints where “an elevated level of impact on health and the environment” can be demonstrated.
Despite these safeguards, some say the process has let them down. One is Tracey Whitworth, head of drama, music and art at Delhi District Secondary School. Whitworth moved out of her home near Clear Creek last weekend due to health issues she says are related to the large number of wind turbines in her neighbourhood.
Whitworth gets violently ill when she is around turbines. Her symptoms disappear when she is away from them. Whitworth mounted a one-woman protest outside Governor Simcoe Square Tuesday night, calling for more research into the health effects of wind turbines.
“It happened to us down there (Clear Creek) and it’s going to happen again to people in Port Dover,” Whitworth predicted. “They won’t know what they are getting into until it hits them.”
Todd Josifovski, manager of the Capital Power project, said his company adheres to MOE health and safety standards. Sarah Palmer, Capital Power’s senior environmental adviser, referred questions about the potential health effects of turbines to the Canadian Wind Energy Association (WEAC) website: www.canwea.ca/
“We don’t have the right to comment on people’s health or how they perceive their health,” Palmer said.